I read the book French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson from cover to cover when I received it in the post. I remember the day well as I was sick and feeling miserable, completely over watching TV and in search of a more interesting sickbed pass-time. I had followed Mimi’s blog Manger since 2012 and eagerly looked forward to her posts, not so much for the recipes, but for the tales of life in her home in Medoc and the beautiful photos taken by her husband Oddur. The stories and the photography drew me in to the point that cooking didn’t seem that important. Having a whole book filled with photos and stories and a day of couch time meant that I pored over the book in great detail: dreaming of mansions in the French countryside, faded floral wallpaper, baskets laden with seasonal vegetables, heavy wooden tables, old portraits and well-stocked wine cellars (clearly I wasn’t THAT sick if I was dreaming of wine).
It took me some time to get to the recipes that afternoon, but I book-marked the ones that appealed most. The following day, feeling much better, I put the book on the shelf, vowing to cook from it very soon. That was in 2016…. yes it has been a while.
I do adore Mimi’s recipes though, in particular her cakes. I posted about her Italian pear cake back in 2012 (which I still love making). Many of her sweets are simple – and the one I have chosen to cook for this month’s post featuring recipes from cookbooks on my shelf is no exception. The fanciest piece of equipment you will need is a ring tin (or a Bundt tin) and a mini-processor to chop the walnuts (though you always use a meat mallet wrapped in a tea towel to crush them by hand if you like…). The recipe is fairly close to Mimi’s, though I added an orange, took out the dark rum and tweaked a few other ingredients including adding a small glass of brandy at the end to the cooked cake, making it moist and a bit boozy. And it is a very good cake. It made quite a few people happy yesterday and today including my 90-year old mother, who took a second slice when she was halfway through the first.
My photos in this post are more than a bit influenced by Mimi’s blog as well – you will note the divine French plate that the whole cake sits on that I bought last week from a vintage store that was closing down. I almost made the cake because it was French AND I had a new vintage French plate for it to sit on. I also made the most of the fading light in my dining room for the photos. It has taken me 8 years of living here to come to appreciate the moodiness of my dining room and the low light that it has (when I am usually running to the sun-soaked terrace with a plate of food to take photos). I hope you enjoy the photos and get around to making the cake. It is a very good one (thank you Mimi) and would make a lovely afternoon tea or dessert for a not-too-formal dinner. I am going to have the last slice tonight as I celebrate selling nine tickets to the six-day Trieste Tour that I am running in September 2018 – only one spot left! Click HERE if you are interested in the last spot.
walnut and orange cake
150g walnuts, processed to a coarse crumb (plus 5 walnut halves for decorating the cake)
80g unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1 tablespoon honey, plus one extra generous tablespoon for drizzling
1/2 tsp pure vanilla essence
1 small orange, zest only
45ml orange juice, freshly squeezed
pinch sea salt
60g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
30-40ml brandy (optional)
Butter a 21cm ring tin or equivalent. Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the walnuts and sugar in a large bowl and give them a good stir. Add the butter, eggs, one tablespoon of honey, vanilla, orange zest, orange juice and salt. Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon until homogenous.
Place the two flours and the baking powder in a separate bowl and give them a quick whisk to remove lumps. Tip the flours in with the walnut mixture. Give it a good stir until homogenous.
Carefully pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes before carefully removing from the tin.
Place on a serving plate and drizzle the brandy on the cake (use less if you do not like it or omit altogether). Warm the remaining honey slightly and pour that onto the cake as well. Decorate with walnut halves and serve when the cake is room temperature.
Adapted from French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson